A city of gentle charm, known especially by its nickname of "European rice capital”, Vercelli is actually one of the most interesting cities in Piedmont and, almost certainly, one of the richest in artistic treasures and masterpieces. Visiting it will be an experience full of wonderful surprises.
Vercelli: a journey between art and culture
The St. Andrew Abbey
A symbol of the city for more than 800 years, St. Andrew Abbey is an exceptional example of Romanesque and Gothic elements combined. Built between 1219 and 1227 at the behest of Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, it has a majestic facade embellished by the magnificent rose window and refined lunettes on the three portals. It also boasts a surprising interior, simple yet elegant, with three naves with cross vaults, a very high transept, and a large presbytery. The abbey houses, in addition to a magnificent cloister, one of the most beautiful capitular halls in Italy where, in 1310, at the presence of Emperor Henry VII, the peace between the Guelphs and Ghibellines of Vercelli was signed.
The St. Eusebius Cathedral
The imposing Cathedral of St. Eusebius, another symbol of the city, was built as a cemetery basilica probably by Eusebius himself, the first proto bishop of Vercelli, and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The baroque facade dating back to the eighteenth century, surmounted by the big dome built in the nineteenth century, and the medieval bell tower are to be visited. At the center of the nave, a beautiful silver foil crucifix dating back to the Ottonian period is considered one of the most important examples of the sacred art of the Middle Ages.
The St. Christopher Church
The Church of St. Christopher is a small city jewel that houses precious artworks by talented artist Gaudenzio Ferrari. The church, also known as the Sistine Chapel of Vercelli, is completely frescoed and hosts some of the most important masterpieces of the Piedmont Renaissance, such as the Madonna degli Aranci altarpiece, the Tales of Mary Magdalene, the Tales of the Virgin Mary, the Crucifixion, and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
The Vercelli Museums
The Borgogna Museum is located in Vercelli and houses approximately 800 artworks, including furniture pieces, paintings, and sculptures ranging from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. The Treasure Museum of the Cathedral, on the other hand, hosts an incredible collection of sacred objects and some of the most important manuscripts in the world, such as the Vercelli’s Book, written entirely in the ancient Anglo-Saxon language. *A must-see is also the Leone Museum, hosting an exceptional collection of weapons, artifacts, furniture, and important historical finds from the city, and the MAC (Civic Archaeological Museum), hosting more than 600 finds from the Roman period where the history of ancient Vercellae is told.
Vercelli historical center: medieval towers, squares, and noble palaces
The ancient city center is a set of commercial streets, alleys, and squares of the past centuries that still bear a visible trace of ancient urban planning. Considered one of the most important cities of northern Italy in medieval times, Vercelli still preserves intact in its urban fabric some of this glorious past. Significant examples of this are its medieval towers, symbols of civic and family power that make Vercelli the only turreted city in Piedmont. The magnificent Tower of the Angel, whose name is linked to many legends, overlooks the central Piazza Cavour. The square, which has always been the economic and beating heart of the city and probably the location of the ancient Roman forum, is completely surrounded by arcades and owes its name to the monument that stands in its center, dedicated to Count Camillo Benso di Cavour. Nearby, one can find Piazza Palazzo di Città, also known as Piazza dei Pesci because of the fish market that took place there. The plaza preserves the ancient Broletto, which hosted the city council between the thirteenth and the nineteenth century. Not far away, following via Duomo, there are some of the most beautiful noble palaces of the city. Palazzo De Rege Thesauro features a facade completely decorated in terracotta; Palazzo Avogadro della Motta hosted Napoleon twice; Palazzo Buronzo d’Asigliano is instead a splendid neoclassical example of architecture. Other interesting noble palaces can be admired along Corso Libertà, an important commercial street that crosses the entire historical center. Here you will find Casa Centoris and Casa Tizzoni, ancient medieval houses that host respectively an elegant Bramante’s courtyard and a richly frescoed hall. We also recommend touring the charming town alleys, such as Via Foa, that in the past housed the city’s Jewish ghetto, where you can admire a beautiful Moorish-style Synagogue.
Food and Wine
Vercelli is not only a treasure trove of artistic masterpieces. Even its simple and tasty traditional cuisineis a pleasant surprise and can satisfy even the most demanding palates. Dishes not to be missed are Panissa, a traditional dish with rice, beans, salam d’la duja and pork rind; Bicciolani, fragrant cookies with a note of cinnamon, cloves, and coriander; and the full-bodied red wines produced in the nearby area of Gattinara renowned as the best wines in Italy for their gentle flavor and harmony.
Biking following the rice fields and Via Francigena
For those who love slow tourism and the great outdoors, Vercelli offers many itineraries that, by foot or bike, take visitors along the rice roads and allow exploring the fascinating panorama of the "squared sea” of the rice fields surrounding the city. Rich in architectural masterpieces and ingenious hydraulic works, the rice fields offer breathtaking views in every season.
Biking enthusiasts can choose from a variety of cycling itineraries, such as the rice fields, to discover the Vercelli countryside and some of its treasures that include the Grange, nature parks, and many farms and rice mills dedicated to the ancient tradition of rice cultivation.
*For those who love to walk, it is possible to follow a stretch of the Via Francigena. Vercelli, which has always been a mandatory stop for those on a pilgrimage to Rome, is an important location on this faith road that can be walked by everyone and represents an alternative way to discover the wealth of the territory.